Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) reappointed a slew of holdovers from his predecessor's Republican administration yesterday, including a top planner who had drawn criticism from some slow-growth activists.

Keeping cabinet officials and key administrators is a tradition in Howard government. Several of yesterday's appointments have served four county executives. Robey inherited them from Charles I. Ecker (R), who could not run for reelection because of term limits.

"I'm certain that he has given this a lot of thought. He must be convinced these people can do the job," said County Council member C. Vernon Gray (D-East Columbia). "There was no need for him to replace them with Democrats."

The reappointment of Joseph W. Rutter as director of planning and zoning caused a few grumbles. In Howard, suburban growth is issue number one. Slow-growth activists are concerned about development--notably two massive mixed-use communities planned for southern Howard. Democratic activists said yesterday they hope Robey will coax Rutter toward slower growth.

"I think [Rutter] favored business interests during the Ecker administration," said Melody Higgins, president of the Columbia Democratic Club. "I hope he looks at what the community as a whole needs under Robey."

Kathryn Mann, executive vice president of the Howard County Citizens Association, expressed a similar sentiment: "I really hope Robey is going to encourage a different approach to development. The interests of the residents who live here now should be paramount."

Robey, a former Howard County police chief, ran for office as a hands-on, apolitical administrator. After winning, he called on several members of Ecker's staff to help with his transition and solicited advice from Ecker himself.

Even the timing of the announcement was an indication of Robey's low-key approach: It came eight months after he was elected. The department heads have been doing their jobs all the while. County Council members said they have long assumed that the Ecker administration had become the Robey administration. Robey said the time allowed him to evaluate each official.

"I have given this the careful consideration a decision of this magnitude deserves," he said in a statement. "I am not one who believes change for the sake of change is a wise philosophy. There is much to be said about maintaining continuity in an organization as complex as this."

Robey's other key reappointments yesterday were: Raquel Sanudo, chief administrative officer; Richard Biggs, technology and communications director; David Hammerman, inspections, licenses, and permits director; James Irvin, public works director; Dale Neubert, finance director; Manus O'Donnell, citizens services director; Melanie Periera, corrections director; and James Heller, chief of fire and rescue.

CAPTION: James N. Robey says his reappointments will help him retain continuity in Howard County.